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Science of the Mind Message Board › Commentary on Daniel Kahneman - Fast and Slow Thinking

Commentary on Daniel Kahneman - Fast and Slow Thinking

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Philip B.
Everett, WA
Post #: 48
Kahneman abstract

Two systems drive the way we think and make choices, says Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function within the mind, Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, exposes the extraordinary capabilities, faults, and biases of fast thinking and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions, showing where we can trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking.


I won't be driving to Seattle to hear the talk, but I put a hold on Kahneman's book in my local library, so I'll read it when it becomes available. Until then, I'd like to offer a few comments to stimulate thinking, and I'd like to hear what people have to say in response, especially those who attend the talk.


It's a trivial observation that there is fast, intuitive thinking and there is slow, deliberative thinking. The challenge that Kahneman faces is to establish that these features identify two discrete cognitive systems.

Fast vs. slow. The simplest model is that fast and slow are two extremes on a continuum that ranges from fast to slow, with all of the gradations in between. A continuum feature is not a rational basis for positing two discrete systems.

Intuitive vs. deliberative. The simplest model is that intuition simply refers to the result of fast thinking, while deliberative thinking requires more time. Hence, this distinction reduces to the fast-slow distinction.

Emotional vs. logical. It is a fallacy to place emotion and logic in opposition, as if greater emotion implies less logic, and vice versa. Logic entails directed reasoning, while emotion entails undirected energy. These are two essential, distinct mental processes that complement each other. To illustrate, a person devoid of emotion will be devoid of motivation, while a person devoid of logic will be insane.

Conscious, volitional vs. unconscious, automatic

Those who attend the Nov. 5 meetup "What is the mind all about?" will see that my model of the mind posits two discrete components: a conscious, volitional component and an unconscious, automatic component. This distinction is intuitively obvious; it is consistent with our knowledge of the structure and operation of the brain; and, I conjecture, it can be used to more simply explain Kahneman's distinction between fast and slow thinking.

More specifically, all thinking and behavior in normal life involve both conscious, volitional activity and unconscious, automatic activity; both kinds of activity are essential. Automatic activity is the result of innate endowment augmented with learning, which starts in utero as the neural system matures. A primary role of conscious, volitional activity is to engender the development of unconscious, automatic abilities that serve the goals formulated by conscious, volitional activity. This is why we say that practice makes perfect. Practice is a conscious, volitional activity, while becoming perfect is an unconscious, automatic activity.

In this light, I conjecture that what Kahneman calls fast thinking entails mental activity that is more heavily unconscious and automatic, while what Kahneman calls slow thinking is mental activity that is more heavily conscious and volitional.

I also conjecture that the role of emotion is misrepresented in Kahneman's model. If we understand emotion as undirected energy, we have three parameters: the type of emotion (joy, sorrow, anger, hunger thirst, sexual passion, etc.), the amount of emotion (magnitude), and the way that our conscious, volitional mind directs the emotion. I liken emotion to gunpowder. When a person loses their temper, it's like a hand grenade exploding, while if a person directs their anger into productive activity, it's like aiming and firing a projectile to serve a useful purpose. What is commonly referred to as emotion is the blatant expression of emotion, and for this reason the role of emotion is misunderstood and is often disparaged.


I conjecture that the distinction between conscious, volitional activity and unconscious, automatic activity provides a simpler model for explaining the entire range of cognitive phenomena, including Kahneman's distinction between fast and slow thinking. In this view, fast and slow thinking do not identify two cognitive systems but, rather, positions on a continuum ranging from highly automatic activity (fast thinking) to highly volitional activity (slow thinking).
A former member
Post #: 24
The distinction between unconscious thought and conscious thought is not so clear to me. It seems to me that all mental activities are handled by the brain, but the distinction is that some mental activities are perceived by our consciousness and others are not.

Kahneman makes the valid distinction between thoughts that we just take as is versus those that we subject to reflection. But that is not either totally binary or a continuum. There can a greater or lesser degree of consideration given to evaluating a thought, but there is also either zero or some non-zero amount of consideration. For example, when playing the piano there is no time to reflect on each finger movement (unless you play like I do).

The role of volition is very tricky. My own opinion is that the actual decisions are made at the brain level but they are perceived in the mind as if they are made there. That is because the consciousness can only sense at a high level what the brain is doing, whereas the actual decisions are actually made as a result of various neurons firing. The evidence for this is that the work of Liget indicates that the brain activity associated with the decision occurs before the person thinks they have made the decision (although there are probably other possible explanations for that activity also).
user 7803750
Seattle, WA
Post #: 38
You are correct about your conclusion Philip, Kahneman set-up the two phenomena of fast and slow thinking to support a conversation about Intuition. It was fascinating to hear what he had to say about the topic. The most notable being "our intuition is not a something we transcend to, rather a process that emerges form our thinking". The conversation had very little to do with the fast and slow thinking, and more to do with the sentimentalization of those processes, relating fast thinking to emotional function and slow to cognitive. function. I wish you could have been there, he also has a book out "Thinking, Fast and Slow."
Philip B.
Everett, WA
Post #: 50
Jon, I appreciate your probing thoughts and analysis. Please bring this up on Saturday in light of the figure on the basic components of the mind that I will present and in light of the insights that we will cover that illuminate the figure.

Arland, thanks for the info about the talk!
Philip B.
Everett, WA
Post #: 51
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